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Savran: Baseball needs weighted schedule

Saturday, September 21, 2002

Other than the white-knuckle ride in the dentist's chair, or the commercial breaks in any NFL telecast, nothing seems to drag on as long as the major-league baseball season.

That's especially true when the local entry's primary objective is trying to avoid losing a certain number of games, rather than how many it can win.

Actually the tedium in my baseball season hasn't been prolonged this year, because the curtain came down on my season Aug. 31, the day baseball decided to forgo the major surgery it needed and settled on a placebo.

The great wild-card chases in the wild, wild West divisions? Just a rumor. Besides, what they do on Tuesday we don't find out about until Thursday.

So flail away, men, and good luck to all. Maybe I'll re-energize by next spring. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. But before I pull the chain and turn out the light on baseball for this season, let me point out just a couple of things.

With the notable exceptions of Donald Fehr, George Steinbrenner, and a couple of hundred self-absorbed, multimillionaire ballplayers, everyone can see that competitive imbalance has, is and will continue to destroy the game. But if you need proof, other than seeing the usual suspects in the playoffs, knowing full well that the windows of opportunity for the Oaklands and Minnesotas began to slide shut the minute they were opened, I present the following:

There are five teams that likely will win 100 games this season, the Yankees, A's, Angels, Braves, and Diamondbacks. That, baseball fans, has been done only once in baseball history. In 1998, which falls within the parameters of this winter of our baseball discontent.

But what has never happened in baseball is likely to occur this season -- four teams are poised to lose 100 games.

Tampa Bay is there. Joining it in the century cellar of shame will be Detroit, Milwaukee, and if they try really hard, the Kansas City Royals.

So what are we to conclude from this?

That because there could be a record-tying five teams with 100 victories, this means there are five great teams out there?

Or does it mean victory totals are padded because there's about to be a record-setting four 100-game losers?

I choose the latter, but that's not really the point.

The point is, this is more stark evidence of the widening chasm between top and bottom, meaning the competitive balance which was prevalent just 10 seasons ago, when the current nots were haves, has spun off its axis and is careening out of control.

There is always going to be a top and bottom. So take a look at baseball's middle class.

It's possible that only 13 out of 30 teams are going to finish above .500. Obviously, five of those 13 are the 100-win teams. So of the rest, only eight teams might win more than they lose.

To me, this represents competitive imbalance as well.

Of the six divisions, there is only one pennant race.

And it's conceivable the winner in five of the six divisions might win with a double-digit lead. Plus in two divisions, the second place team might finish below .500.

The NFL is being held up as the role model for how to run a league.

There are too many differences between the NFL and MLB to allow baseball to follow the same design. But one area baseball should consider copying is a weighted schedule based on last year's standings.

There's no doubt the Yankees are an excellent team, but while the Angles, Mariners and A's bludgeon each other, the Yankees get to beat the tar out of Class AAA Tampa Bay 19 times.

Granted, a league should not try to legislate against competition. But with competitive balance certain to be an issue during the four years of this labor agreement, baseball should re-think its scheduling and make the tough guys battle it out more frequently, while the little guys get to fight someone their own size more often.

This does tear at the concept of divisional play. And maybe the fans here won't enjoy seeing the Padres twice as often and the Braves half as much. But under the current format, the good teams only come here three games a season anyway.

It's a Band-Aid. It won't solve the ultimate problem.

But with baseball again unwilling to have the surgery it so desperately needs, I say take whatever placebos are available.

Enjoy the postseason, and I'll look you up next spring.

Stan Savran is the host of a sports talk show from 3 to 6 p.m. on WBGG-AM (970).

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